Movement After a Spinal Cord Injury

Feeling & Movement After a Spinal Cord Injury Part II: Movement

Currently, I’m considered incomplete motor and sensory, which means I have some feeling and movement below the level of my injury. In Part I, most of my post was about the feeling that I have throughout my body. I explained my injury level along with what I can feel despite being a C-1 C-2 quadriplegic on a ventilator. Now I’m going to focus in more on my movement.

When it comes to telling others about my abilities, I usually just say that I’m paralyzed from the neck down. The reason I tell people this is because it’s just easier that way. It’s hard to explain how I move things and specifically how it’s possible that I can. It takes a lot of focus and strength, and having the ability to feel different parts of my body including muscles definitely helps in the process.

Through physical therapy and practicing on my own, I work hard to regain as much movement as possible. I’ve been taught exactly which muscle or muscle groups move certain parts of my body, which helps me through the process. In order to move different parts of my body I have to isolate individual muscles and tighten them.  This process allows me to bend both of my wrists, elbows, and knees. I’ve also learned how to tighten the muscles in my core to pull myself either forward (using my stomach muscles) or backward (using my back muscles). I can also move most of my toes, five of my fingers, and shrug my shoulders with greater ease since it requires less thought and focus. The video posted below shows me bringing my left arm towards my body while in bed.

To explain more in depth, I’m going to begin with how I bend my elbows by using the same strategies I use to move other things. I start with tightening my bicep and abs to bend my elbow. Once my arm gets close to 90°, gravity takes over. I’m unable to straighten my arm once it is bent. If someone straightens it for me, I can bend it again, but only a couple of times in a row before I get too tired, tense, or spastic. Again, I have to concentrate on each step as I do it, focusing on each muscle. There is one significant challenge that prevents me from moving more and that is my spasticity and tone. My muscles are extremely tight.

This all may sound very confusing; spinal cord injuries often are. It’s amazing how many differences there can be between two people with the same injury level. I’m able to move certain things and tighten muscles throughout my body. There is only one movement that I don’t have to think about (shown in the video below) that I’ve used to actually control something.

I’m always curious to learn more about what others’ with SCI’s are able to move despite their injury or what they’ve been told. Do you have a spinal cord injury? If so, are you able to move below your injury level? What have you gained throughout the years?

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